The tears are on their mind and nothing is rhyming. Sometime between previous single “Hey Whatever!” – a very non-Imperial number 4 – and this cover version, Brian McFadden decided it was time for the dream to end and handed in his notice. Sometimes when boys quit a band it’s a shock – a profitable enterprise cut cruelly short. But Westlife shedding a member felt like part of an ongoing process, a group winding gently down.

Even “Mandy”, their 13th Number One and by some way their best, was a surrender of sorts. In their prime, the ‘Life had taken soupy, anonymous Hector/Mac ballads to the top on a conquistador’s whim. Charity records aside, it had been a long time since they’d had to stoop so low as to cover a song to eke out a week at the top. And they’d never tackled a song quite so, well, obvious, so firmly in their wheelhouse as “Mandy”. When Oasis covered The Beatles, they had the basic self-respect to put it on a B-Side.

And yet it’s because Westlife doing Manilow is such an obvious idea that it makes for their most bearable number one. It’s not that Team Westlife don’t try to sabotage it – slapping on an inevitable key change and some pointlessly fussy harmonies at the end. But “Mandy” is a perma-tanned battleship of a song, impervious to damage. Nobody who could hold a tune could entirely fuck up that chorus once it starts on its triumphant procession of stresses, “you CAME and you GAVE without TA-king”.

Westlife’s only sin is that they are no Barry Manilow. Next to his version they sound callow and uncommitted, unwilling to indulge in the AOR showman’s kayfabe of plunging into a song and acting as if every gloopy word of it matters. Their take is wistful, a gentle lapping of sad memories on the smooth shores of the Westlifian consciousness; Barry’s is an armageddon of the suburban soul. Since Westlife began their reign, “song choice” had become a make-or-break factor in the reality TV auditions for their successors. An unpopular or unsuitable pick could end a budding career. But Westlife’s too-suitable pick was just as wrong-footed, exposing the limits they had always been working under. This wasn’t just as good as they get – it’s as good as they could get. The game was almost up.

Score: 5

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